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Housing

Is it time for a second (homes) referendum?

Locals in coastal beauty spots are voting to ban second homes to turn the tide on rising house prices

Behind the postcard-perfect scenery of some of Britain’s coastal beauty spots, there are battle lines being drawn over second homes.

For many, holiday homes are a blight on seaside towns and villages, where the soul has been sucked out of the place by soaring house prices and falling incomes, leaving locals priced out in favour of the wealthy elite.

But the framework to fight back came in the 2011 Localism Act which has led to a rush of referenda on the issue.

Votes allow the creation of Neighbourhood Development Plans enabling policies to be set out for hyper-local areas, giving residents a voice and a chance to tailor rules and guidelines to their own needs.

While they still have to conform to national policies, the NDPs have the same legal status as traditional Local Plans once ratified by a referendum.

There has to be the right homes built here: sometimes affordable does not mean affordable

That’s why the villagers of Beadnell in Northumberland headed to the polls in May to decide whether to ban the sale of new-build homes to be used as non-permanent dwellings – as 55 per cent of the homes there are, according to census data.

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And that’s why Andy Brown successfully lobbied through his campaign group, Beadnell Under Threat, to set up a referendum in which 90 per cent of voters backed a second-homes ban.

“We don’t have the infrastructure to support extra houses,” he said. “Jobs are few and far between and they are also low paid and seasonal.

“It is great news that we have won this referendum, now we can try and redress the balance because Beadnell has one of the highest proportions of second homes in the country.

“This idea will spread up and down the country and we will have to see over the next 15 years whether it works or not. We have also been contacted by people as far away as Suffolk to hear more about it.”

Councils usually require about 30 to 50 per cent of new-build homes to be classed as affordable, which is defined as less than 80 per cent of the price of the average market value.

And this presents another problem, according to Brown, as the popularity of the area has led to average prices around seven per cent higher than for the rest of the county at £336,883.

“The term affordable homes is open to interpretation,” he added. “Young families can’t afford to buy any of the properties around here because there is a premium on houses and that means that 80 per cent of the market price is still not affordable for people living here.

“There has to be the right homes built here: sometimes affordable does not mean affordable.”

Beadnell was not the first to take this action – Lynton and Lynmouth in Devon led the way in November 2013 – but the most famous example came three years later in St Ives.

Reducing the number of additional dwellings being built in these areas will exacerbate the very problem the residents are trying to solve

More than 80 per cent voted in favour of reserving new homes for full-time residents in May 2016, triggering an 18-month courtroom wrangle with a local architecture firm before it came into force.

But work is still to be done as the row has rumbled on this year amid reports in local press that 6,000 holiday lets in Cornwall are not paying either council tax or business rates thanks to a legal loophole that lets them register as a small business.

Liberal Democrat Andrew George, who was the MP for St Ives between 1997 and 2015 and campaigned for a second homes ban, said: “The local people were not at war with second-home owners, many of whom are just taking advantage of the law that is there, as is their right to do so, and many have been invited into becoming part of the community.

“It was about finding a way of breaking the system that was there for them to do that.”

The St Ives success has triggered widespread referenda in Cornwall with the parishes of St Minver and the Rame Peninsula following suit. Nearby Mevagissey became the latest to hold a vote in June, achieving a landslide success.

But the ruling has not been the sea-change that many hoped for, with figures from estate agency Hamptons International reporting that the percentage of second homes in Cornwall rose to nine per cent last year, up from seven per cent in 2010.

And developers are continuing to clash with residents on the issue, as Home Builders Federation planning director Andrew Whitaker warns.

“The effect on developers will be to discourage development in those areas as the market for the properties will be restricted,” he said. “Reducing the number of additional dwellings being built in these areas will exacerbate the very problem the residents are trying to solve through the policy, meaning that prices for homes without the restriction will increase even further, thereby making them even less affordable for locals.”

The second homes referendum features in this week’s Big Issue Out and About Special alongside Arsenal legend Tony Adams’ poignant Letter To My Younger Self, our summer books guide and much, much more. Available now from a vendor or The Big Issue Shop.

Image: Catriana Nicholson/Flickr

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